Funds assist Tribes with preventing violent crimes against Indian women
By Shelley Bluejay Pierce
March 26, 2009
WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) announced that applications are being accepted for $23.6 million in OVW Recovery Act grant funds. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorized funding for enhancement of state, local, and tribal law enforcement efforts, including the hiring of new police officers, programs that combat violence against women, and initiatives that fight internet crimes against children.
This announcement comes as the U.S. House Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee held a hearing addressing the high rates of violence against Native American and Alaska Native women.
OVW’s Acting Director, Catherine Pierce, stated that, “The Office on Violence Against Women is committed to improving the innovative responses to violence against Indian women. These Recovery Act funds will create and stimulate additional staffing and resources to meet this goal.”
As American Indian governments and tribal women’s coalitions rally efforts at combating violence against women, federal funding is being made available through grant funding. The Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, made significant progress towards addressing sexual violence in Indian Country, and in preparation for drafting the Fiscal Year 2010 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.
Included, is language directing the BIA to partner with the IHS, community advocates and Tribal leaders to establish clear standards of practice and standardize protocols for responding to domestic violence and sexual assaults. The language also directed the BIA to provide training programs that better prepare officers in the field who are most often the first to respond to incidences of sexual assault.
National and State statistics show alarming figures with one in three Native women suffering sexual assault during their lifetime and 60 percent of sexual assaults not being reported to police. As disturbing as the figures are, authorities believe these statistics do not adequately portray the true levels of sexual violence against Native American and
Alaska Native women.
In 2007, Amnesty International (AIUSA) published a report titled, “Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA” which documented the details of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. Amnesty International interviewed Tribal leadership, law enforcement officials, healthcare agents and victims of abuse to complete a startling picture of realities for Indigenous women.
(full document available at http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/maze/report.pdf )
The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation was used to demonstrate one type of challenge in policing expansive, rural reservations where tribal and federal authorities have jurisdiction. In Oklahoma there resides a very different scenario where the area is composed of parcels of tribal lands mixed alongside state land where tribal, state or federal authorities may have jurisdiction.
In an attempt to address this, a first of its kind agreement between an American Indian police department and a state law enforcement agency was made by the Chickasaw Nation in 2007. The agreement, aimed at eliminating jurisdictional uncertainties that can benefit criminals, was made by Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Chief Jason O’Neal and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Director R. Darrell Weaver. This historic cross-deputation agreement granted equal law enforcement authority, on or off Indian land,
to the Chickasaw Individual officers of the LPD and the OBN special law enforcement commissions.
The LPD also signed agreements and cross-commissioned officers with several local law enforcement agencies including the Pontotoc County Sheriff’s Department, the 22nd District Attorney’s Office, the Roff, Allen and Stonewall Police Departments, and others.
The Amnesty International report listed three main factors that determine where jurisdictional authority lies: whether the victim is a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe or not; whether the accused is a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe or not; and whether the alleged offence took place on tribal land or not.
These factors determine whether a crime should be investigated by tribal, federal or state police, whether it should be prosecuted by a tribal prosecutor, a state prosecutor (District Attorney) or a federal prosecutor (US Attorney) and whether it should be tried at tribal, state or federal level. Lastly, this determination dictates the body of law to be applied
to the case: tribal, federal or state.
The results of this systemic quagmire are leaving Native women confused and emergency responders hesitating to act based upon jurisdictional issues. This results in victims having inadequate care and legal protection and impunity for the perpetrators, especially non-Native offenders who commit crimes on tribal land.
According to the US Department of Justice, at least 86 percent of reported rapes or sexual assaults against American Indian and Alaska Native women were perpetrated by non-Native men.
The Recovery Act provides the DOJ with funding for grants to assist the Tribal Governments Programs aimed at fulfilling three primary goals. (1) to decrease the number of violent crimes committed against Indian women; (2) to help Indian tribes use their independent authority to respond to crimes of violence against Indian women; and (3) to make sure that people who commit violent crimes against Indian women are held responsible for their actions.
The Indian Tribal Governments Program will award $20.8 million to grantees and the Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalitions Program will award $2.8 million. Information on application and all procedures for Tribes interested in the new funding programs is posted at http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/recovery.htm
New applicants in the Tribal Governments Program can apply for up to $450,000 in grants and current OVW grantees may request up to $1 million. Applications are due by April 9, 2009. Grants through the Tribal Coalitions Program will be awarded for up to $154,000 and applications are due by April 8, 2009.
During a recent teleconference held by the National Congress of American Indians, (NCAI) http://www.ncai.org/ the eligibility requirements, award periods, program scope, performance measures, selection criteria and review process were discussed so that Tribes would be fully aware requirements needed to access the funds.
Additionally, NCAI launched a new website containing the most recent information impacting Tribes in regards to the Recovery Act and its funding availabilities. (Please go to http://www.indiancountryworks.org/ for the most current information.)